Owners reopen Elburn pub, saying 'you have a better chance of dying in your car'

An earlier version gave an incorrect address. And the Theobalds are now the sole owners, unlike what is still listed in state liquor-license records.

An Elburn pub has defied the state by reopening for indoor, sit-down business.

And it did so with the blessing of Village President Jeff Walter, who said he sat at the bar to eat his dinner Thursday night.

Eddie Gaedel Pub and Grill, 117 N. Main St., installed a plastic shield between patrons and bartenders, removed some seating and has put plastic sheeting between tables, Walter said.

Walter, who is also the town's liquor commissioner, supported the opening. In a letter he sent last week to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, he said Elburn, in western Kane County, should not be in the same region as more densely populated Chicago for determining the potential spread of COVID-19 and allowing businesses to reopen.

The letter, sent on behalf of the village, also questioned the governor's powers to make the orders and said the village believes it would be vulnerable to lawsuits from businesses if the village enforced the governor's orders.

"Our position is we are not enforcing," Walter said Tuesday.

A neighboring bar and grill also had talked to him about reopening early but decided not to because it was afraid the state would take away its video gambling license, he said. Gaedel does not have video gambling.

On May 11, Gaedel announced in a Facebook post it intended to reopen soon. Walter said the owners told him that week about their plans but did not ask his permission.

Annette and Richard Theobald own the pub. The Theobalds, who also own Paisano's Pizza and Grill carryout businesses in Sugar Grove and downtown Elburn, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Patrick Leach of Elburn, who was at the pub late Tuesday afternoon, said local establishments are a part of the community and sponsor sports teams including baseball, softball and lacrosse.

"It's businesses like this that sponsor all those things," he said. "It's more than selling beer and burgers; it's the whole support of the town."

Leach said big-box retailers like Walmart can stay open while a bar with fewer than 10 patrons during an afternoon has to remain closed. "You have to give people places to go or it funnels them into one spot," he said.

In a May 21 interview on the "Morning Answer" radio show with political commentator Dan Proft, the Theobalds said they mean no disrespect to anyone who has contracted COVID-19, but they think the odds of getting the disease at their pub are slim.

"You have a better chance of dying in your car driving out to Eddie Gaedel's than you do catching the virus once you're inside," Richard Theobald said during the radio interview.

Both Theobalds criticize actions Pritzker has taken and are suspicious of anything he says.

"If you say, 'Well, in eight days you can reopen,' how do you know the days that they tell you will really be the days?" Annette Theobald said.

Bars and restaurants are allowed to open Friday, but only with outdoor dining and spread-out seating, as the state moves to Phase 3 of the five-phase Restore Illinois plan.

Annette Theobald said outdoor dining won't support their business because of the variability of the weather and the size of its patio.

"I see lightning bolts every day in my phone (weather forecasts) next week," Richard Theobald said. Plus, the guidelines call for reducing seating by 50%, which means they'd have only 12 seats on the patio, Annette Theobald said.

During the radio interview, Richard Theobald said he has lost friends over his plan to reopen the pub.

"By me reopening (they say) I am putting out, I am spreading this virus. ... That's just not the case," he said.

• Daily Herald Staff Photographer Joe Lewnard contributed to this report.

  A plastic sheet separates tables at Eddie Gaedel Pub and Grill in Elburn, which has defied the governor's orders by reopening to indoor dining May 21. Joe Lewnard/
  Julie and Alan Isberg of Elburn have a drink together Tuesday afternoon at Eddie Gaedel Pub and Grill in Elburn. Pub owners defied the governor's orders and reopened to indoor dining May 21 with the blessings of Village President Jeff Walter. Joe Lewnard/
  Signs on the front door of Eddie Gaedel Pub and Grill in Elburn explain how many patrons can enter and thank people for supporting small businesses. Brian Hill/
  Eddie Gaedel Pub and Grill in Elburn has defied the governor's orders by reopening May 21 for indoor dining. Elburn Village President Jeff Walter said he supports the opening and the village will not enforce the governor's order. Brian Hill/
  Eddie Gaedel Pub and Grill in Elburn has defied the governor's orders by reopening for dine-in business. Brian Hill/
Elburn Village President Jeff Walter
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